You've heard of the Sewanee Review, everyone has, well maybe not everyone but certainly most English majors of a certain vintage are aware of that magazine's glorious history, it existed when there were very few others, the Kenyon, the Hudson, and of course the Partisan, back when the world was round, criticism was "new" if not new, the Iron Curtain preceded the Berlin Wall and we wore Davy Crockett coonskin caps watching the Yankees win the World Series.
Well, the Sewanee Review is still going strong. I just read some terrific poems there by the late Turner Cassity and an affecting reminiscence of the Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, whose book The Last days of Hitler, published in 1947, is as good a work of historical reporting (if that's not an oxymoron) as I have ever read. Trevor-Roper worked for British intelligence during the war and was up front at the bunker in Berlin after Germany capitulated in May 1945. His account of the Fueher is unforgettable. "His whole body was trembling. His hand was shaking, his leg was shaking, and his head was shaking. and all that he kept saying was 'Shoot them all!'"
There is a second magazine associated with Sewanee, the Sewanee Theological Review, and the name doesn't lie. You find therein what you would expect to find therein -- except that the poems published in each issue are of exceptionally high quality due to the taste and judgment of poetry editor Greg Williamson (left). Twice in the last couple of years have poems from Sewanee Theological been chosen for the year's Best American Poetry. The magazine has an enlightened neo-formalist bent that prizes a tour de force when freshness of diction and intelligence of thought distinguish it from the usual thing. Erica Dawson's "Parallax" appeared in these pages as did Amy Glynn Greacen's "Namaskar."
The current issue features a well-made sonnet (Michael Spence's "Intersection");Alan Sullivan's metrical translation of Psalm 139; Stephen Kampa's "Reading Pilgrim's Progress While Waiitng to be tested for STDs," a poem in ABBA quatrains that matches the demotic and the traditional in ABBA quatrains, and Jim Murphy's "The Painted Men," a meditation on tattoos. The poems manage, in Michael Spence's phrase, to leave "Bouquets in corners where faith collides / With physics." The intersection of faith and doubt matches the crossing of traditional form and contemporary practice. Perhaps it is this quality above all that marks the poetry Greg Williamson selects for Sewanee Theological Review. Kudos, sir.
Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek and a Sewanee graduate, caught my eye with this beautiful passage from the Baccalaurate Address he gave at the University of the South in May 2010, also in the current issue of Sewanee Theological Review:
"In my own life, whenever I have fallen short of the mark, or hurt someone, or done those things which I ought not to have done, it has always been because of the sin of pride, which is when love becomes self-regard, and my gaze, which is rightly dfirected outward, toward others, has turned inward, toward me, focusing on the devices and desires of my own heart." -- DL